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MonkeyNotes-Electra by Euripides
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Orestes

Orestes was a baby at the time when his father was murdered. He was taken by an honest servant of his father to Phocis and brought up by Strophius. Thus Orestes is a prince without a kingdom. Soon after the play begins, he comes to Electra with his friend Phylades. Initially, he does not tell Electra who he is. He poses to be a friend of Orestes.

Orestes wishes to avenge his fatherís murder. He has been ordered by the oracle to do so. But he is hesitant to kill his mother. He is a sensitive hero who realizes that it is not right to kill his mother. However, when instigated by his sister, he succumbs to committing the foul murder. He is young and is carried away by his sisterís determination, as he loves her very much. She is a sort of mother figure. This is an aspect of Oedipus complex, which does prevail in Orestes. In his killing of Aegisthus too, there is a transfer of Oedipal feeling. The Oedipal feelings are transferred to Aegisthus who is his stepfather. He kills him with tact but in an inglorious manner by stabbing him from behind. This shows that he did not have the courage to indulge in a fight with him. He has probably realized that Aegisthus is too powerful for him.


Orestes is driven to commit the most heinous sin because of his sisterís determination and Apolloís oracle. He does not use his own thinking to decide whether he should commit such a gruesome crime or not. At the climactic moment when Electra fails and her sword falls from her hand, Orestes puts a cloth over his eyes and pierces his mother with a cleaver.

After Orestes murders his mother, he is tortured severely by his own conscience. The furies are to follow him. He regrets his action but cannot do anything to undo what he is done. He has to go to Athens and face a trial. After that he would be a free man again. As ordered by the Dioscuri, he gives Electra in marriage to Phylades and parts from her after blessing them. The parting is very emotional and sad.

Minor

Clymenestra

Though Clymenestra is a minor character, she is an important character. She appears in the play towards the end. Before that we only hear of her. She is the target of revenge on which the play is focussed.

Clymenestra has been victimized by her husband. Her daughter Iphigenia is taken away from her and sacrificed. This is the cruelest thing that a mother can suffer. Later she is deprived of her husband who goes to the Trojan War for ten long years. At the end of the war, he brings Cassandra as his concubine. Clymenestra and Aegisthus murder Agamemnon.

Clymenestra has been often criticized for living in adultery with Aegisthus while Agamemnon was away. But we should not overlook the fact that her circumstances were so cruel that they might have led her to it. However, she is very revengeful. She kills her husband, Agamemnon. Her quality of revenge is passed on to Electra who makes her, her victim.

Clymenestra is also criticized for not caring and protecting her children, Orestes and Electra. Orestes had to be taken away for safety. She did not prevent Electra from being married off to the humble peasant. Electra suffers in extreme poverty and Clymenestra does not do anything to reduce her suffering. Yet she is not totally bad. We presume that she must have looked after her children and fed them at least when they were very small. This is indicated by the fact that she shows her breast to Orestes when she pleads for mercy. Her mourning for Iphigenia too might have been real.

Clymenestra is a victim of her circumstances and also a victim of her own children. She is murdered by her son Orestes who is instigated by Electra and ordered by the divine oracle to do so.

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